McNeill impresses crowd -- and vice versa
On Thursday, the crowd was impressed by McNeill.
The Florida State graduate, who once lost his Nationwide Tour card, led a group of four golfers at minus-6, one shot back of co-leaders Erik Compton and Matt Every after one round of the Classic. The others are Pat Perez, Jeff Overton and Matt Every.
McNeill, though, may have been the most relieved to see his 64 posted.
"Basically, I started the season halfway decent, then played like crap the rest of the time,'' McNeill said. "Until now.''
Indeed, it was a fine day for McNeill. He started off converting a birdie on No. 1 from 15 feet. On No. 6, he used a driver and 7-iron to get within 7 feet for another. On No. 8, he hit a 5-iron to within 4 feet on the par-4 for yet another.
McNeill chalked up two more on No. 10, when he hit a 3-wood and then a sand wedge close, and No. 18, when he hit a 9-iron to within 3 feet.
His only bogey of the day was on No. 11.
"I'm starting to feel all the stuff I've been working on all year come together,'' McNeill said. "I'm starting to feel more comfortable.''
He certainly feels more comfortable on the course than in a pro shop. When he lost his Nationwide Tour card, McNeill became an assistant golf pro at a course in Fort Myers, Fla.
"I was like a secretary,'' he said. "A weatherman.''
It helped nudge the career forward.
"In the back of my mind,'' he said, "I always think about when I had to take a job. I think about that, and I really don't know that I ever want to do that again.
"That drives me to get out and practice and deal with the ups and downs you're going to have out here.''
McNeill said his swing was the main cause of problems.
"My putting has been decent all year and I usually am a pretty good putter,'' he said. "But my swing. ... Now, though, I feel more comfortable stepping up over the ball and hitting shots, whether it's low shots or high shots.''
Did it stress the 6-foot, 170-pound player?
"Yeah, but that's golf,'' he said. "Every player goes through it. It doesn't matter if you're the No. 1 player in the world or the No. 1,001 player in the world, you're going to struggle at times.
"You've just got to look at it and analyze why you're struggling and get back to basics.''
McNeill said his caddie, Pete Jordan, helped him out. Ditto an old coach, Kevin Kinney of Tampa, Fla.
"Most of the time, though, I do stuff myself,'' he said.
He didn't feel quite alone, though, during Thursday's first round.
"A guy I've known for a long time, one who just moved to Lewisburg last week, came up to me on the course,'' McNeill said. "On No. 17, I walked up to him and said, 'Man, this is unreal. The community is pretty excited about this.' He said, 'This is the greatest thing for this community ever. We don't have any big events around here, so the community is 100 percent behind it.'
"I also said this is the most crowd I've seen on a Tuesday or Wednesday and Thursday at a tournament other than a major. People just don't show up to watch pro-am golf on Wednesdays - but they do here. It's amazing the following and support this community has given this event.''
On Thursday, that community was rewarded by the play of McNeill.